March 13, 2013


Olivia Munn (L) and Dev Patel from the NEWSROOM panel at the PALEYFEST on March 3, 2013. CLICK to visit the official site for this panel at

Los Angeles is probably the most unfairly maligned city in the United States. Yes, everything you’ve heard about it is probably true. At the same time, most of the negative stuff isn't nearly as bad as it’s made out to be. More often than not, the loudest haters tend to be those who have never spent more than a week there and/or New Yorkers, a plucky people with a remarkable ability to convince themselves that the raft of  problems in their city are just further proof of its status as center of the known universe. Big Gulp, anyone?

I lived in Los Angeles from 2000 to 2011. Sure, it has problems but it’s also a vibrant city rich with simple pleasures, amazing cultural diversity and an endless treasure trove of hidden gems. Unfortunately, Los Angeles is located in California, a state so screwed up that I finally said “enough is enough” and fled for greener (and colder) pastures. I say all of this as a roundabout introduction to this post. Plus, since RONTHINK launched, this is the first chance I’ve had to get in a few fun jabs at California and NYC.

One of the things I do genuinely miss about Los Angeles is attending the annual PALEYFEST. Run by the Paley Center for Media (formerly known as the Museum of Television and Radio), it’s a series of panel discussions featuring the casts, writers, creators and producers of current (and sometimes classic) TV series. I am planning a full post about the 2013 PALEYFEST this week but, after screening THE NEWSROOM panel, I couldn’t wait to highlight this piece of amazing video.

THE NEWSROOM is an original series on HBO. It’s written by Aaron Sorkin and stars, among others, Jeff Daniels, Dev Patel, Sam Waterston and Olivia Munn. Sorkin, a brilliant writer, is responsible for some of my all-time favorite TV series (SPORTS NIGHT, THE WEST WING) and THE SOCIAL NETWORK, easily one of the best movies of the past decade. That’s why I thought the THE NEWSROOM was such a disappointment. It had everything Sorkin fans love but was bogged down by an excesses of the stuff his detractors always whine about. I had written off the show…until now.

Though the entire panel chat is worth watching (see the full video at the end of this post), the must-see clip is an uncomfortable exchange between CNN talking head Piers Morgan and Olivia Munn. In one of those “be careful what you ask for” moments, Morgan, the panel moderator, asks Munn to give her definition of journalism. She does and, if you’re a self-impressed jackass like Piers Morgan, it isn’t pretty. Given Morgan’s own problems with everything from his journalistic ethics to woeful ratings, his mere presence as moderator of this panel was already questionable. When Morgan makes the mistake of chiding Munn, cue the fireworks.

MUNN: “I prefer to see Piers Morgan and Dianne Sawyer…just on the news and not on the red carpet. That’s just me, personally…”

MORGAN: “Well, I had to do it. I’m moderating.”

MUNN: “No, I know…”

MORGAN: “…unpaid, Sunday night, don’t be so bloody churlish.”

MUNN: “…Do you want the truth or do you just, you know, want me to say something.?”

Ouch! The answer, of course, is the latter. Munn gave an honest response and Morgan got his panties in a twist. He also turned a discussion about a show he isn’t on, held in front of an audience who didn’t pay to see him, into one of the same “all about me” moments that Munn goes on to carpet bomb. Here's the full clip:

To her credit, Munn remained poised throughout and gave Morgan infinitely more respect than he deserved. More importantly, she was spot on. Media buzz aside, this exchange now becomes another fascinating piece of the puzzle that is Olivia Munn. In less than five minutes she manages the almost impossible task of defining and defending the nobility of real journalism, adding cred to her own increasingly impressive resume, refusing to be turned into a joke because she answered a question honestly and giving Piers Morgan a long overdue verbal bitch slap. Score!

During my decade plus in Los Angles, one of the positions I held was Director of Marketing at G4. It was a network with a tiny audience of the most mind-bogglingly wonderful fans I’ve ever worked with. In fact, they were the reason most of us were there. G4 is owned by Comcast, the cable conglomerate everyone hates (unless, of course, you believe the “future of awesome” really does emanate from Philly). Of all the networks owned by the company, G4 was the one that got the fewest resources and the least respect. I say “was” because G4 is held in such low esteem by Comcast that it will soon be turned into something called The Esquire Network. Good luck with that, Kabletown.

My tenure happened to fall during the heyday of Olivia Munn, when AOTS! was still on the air and held cult status as the best live show almost no one was watching. I’m not gonna say Munn was an angel 24/7, but working at G4 did have a way of making even the best people a little brittle (present company included). We all worked for relative peanuts. Some of us also worked for outright buffoons while others toiled away creating small television miracles, like X-PLAY and the aforementioned AOTS!, on a shoestring.

Munn and AOTS! co-host Kevin Pereira had that rare on camera “thing” that sparkled. I never had any doubts about Pereira. He’s a nice guy with a passion for everything geek and an ability to make you care. Munn was the question mark. I never fell into the trap of selling her short or assuming she was just a hot chick looking to be a star. She was too self-deprecating and willing to “go there” for that. In fact, with the exception of Munn and Carrie Keagan on BIG MORNING BUZZ LIVE WITH CARRIE KEAGAN, it’s hard to find female hosts who can manage the delicate balancing act of brains, body and bawdy. Both do it exceptionally well.

Munn has moved on from her TV hosting days and small cameo roles in feature films. She starred in the NBC sit-com bomb PERFECT COUPLES, a show so badly written no-one in the cast should be blamed for the epic fail. Rather than trying to make any more hay in the Comcast family (NBC is also owned by the company), Munn moved out and on to a major supporting role in MAGIC MIKE. To the dismay of her detractors, she was quite good. Those who continued to sell her short got their comeuppance when Aaron Sorkin cast her in THE NEWSROOM. While critical reaction to the show was split almost evenly between fawning and eviscerating, Munn received near universal praise for her performance.

Unlike some, I much prefer to see public figures grow, evolve, mature and blossom. I don’t subscribe to a media mindset fixated on building people up only to tear them down. Yes, some actors and politicians are their own worst enemies but, they are also often as much a player in their rapid rise as they are a victim in their spectacular falls. Munn started her career on the geek fringe, a place where you can spread your wings and make mistakes in front of a fan base honest enough to call you out, smart enough to give advice you probably should follow and forgiving enough to let you fly again. 

Based on where Olivia Munn is today, those who thought she was a flash in the pan should probably eat some crow. If the Olivia Munn we now see in movies, TV series and at this particular PALEYFEST panel is the real deal (and I think she is), second chances are indeed a very good thing.

Here is the full video of the NEWSROOM panel from the 30th annual PALEYFEST. Enjoy!

CLICK for more video from PALEYFEST on Hulu CLICK to visit the PALEY CENTER FOR MEDIA online screening room CLICK to buy season 1 of THE NEWSROOM on Amazon